After my previous post about how hard it can be to make the decision whether or not to take a placement, I thought I'd write a post about how the process and how much information we get.
When the duty team call, their first questions are always clarifying who we have in placement (for some reason they didn't know about Andy whilst he was here so we had a couple of calls as they thought his room was empty) and where they're sleeping. The type of house we live in, how many bedrooms we have and the sleeping arrangements are on our records. Having clarified that we have the space available (if not the actual beds - we had to rush out and buy Andy a cot!) they tell us the age and gender of the child/ren they're looking to place, as well as the timescale - emergency same-day, short notice, planned. Most placements are planned in advance even if it's just by a few days, as the duty team are informed that a case is going to court, or that a situation looks to have escalated.
If we're still interested, they tell us more information if they have it available, for example:
- the area of the county they come from
- why the child has been/will be taken into care
- whether the child is currently in care, and how many placements they've had
- what the contact arrangements are likely to be
- a little bit about the parents' history i.e. if they've had a chaotic upbringing or were in care themselves, whether they've had any previous children taken into care
- finally, a bit about the child including whether they're meeting milestones, if they're in school/nursery, whether they sleep/eat well, whether there are any behavioural or emotional concerns etc.
Unless it's respite or a planned move from another foster carer, it's never absolutely certain when the child might arrive, or even whether they will come into care, but the duty team need to have placements arranged just in case. Courts can cause delays too for various reasons and the social worker might not get the outcome they expect. It's also not guaranteed that the child would come to us even if we said yes, as it's likely that the duty team will have approached several carers at once, and may have called fostering agencies too.
When the child arrives, or within the first few days, we should receive a care plan and placement plan, which should have all the details of the case so far, the child's current routine, contact arrangements, medical/allergy details, any self-care or hygiene needs, behaviours, learning needs, school/nursery/clubs information, likes/dislikes. If it's respite or they're coming from another foster carer the information should be far more detailed to try to make the transition easier on the child i.e. that she likes a specific type of cup, singing a special song at bedtime, watching a certain tv programme to signal that it's time for bed, he'll only fall asleep in the buggy cuddling his favourite toy etc. We should also get the child's red book if they're under five.
Whether or not all of this information is available is down to each individual situation - where the child has come from, how quickly they need to be placed, how long the family have been known to social services, and ultimately how conscientious the social worker is at chasing everything down, even if it's not available on the day. From our own experiences and those of other foster carers we've spoken to, it's generally an exercise in piecing facts together over time to build up a full picture, and muddling along doing the best we can in the mean time.